By Kevin Heath
Modern technology is changing the way the poachers in Kenya go about their business killing elephants. Sadly this was shown on Sunday with the discovery of a still warm body of a 30-year-old tusker that had been killed by poachers and its tusks had been removed. The elephant had been killed by a poisoned spear.
As modern technology becomes available to rangers to protect wildlife the poachers are changing tactics and going back to traditional methods of killing elephants. Gone are the AK-47s and back are the poisoned arrows and spears.
Modern technology means that sensors can be placed around national parks that can instantly pin-point the sound of a rifle or shot-gun being fired. This allows rangers to be deployed quickly and increases the ability of law enforcement to stop the poacher. Poisoned spears and arrows though make no sound and gives the poacher an advantage.
It is a method of poaching the Kenyan Wildlife Service has noticed increasing in recent months. The latest incident of the new – or renewed – method was experienced on Sunday at the Laikipia Nature Conservancy where a 30-year-old elephant was killed. It is thought the poachers arrived at the park through the southern boundaries
Kenya Wildlife Service Director, William Kiprono, highlighted the change in tactics late last month while on a visit to a wildlife conservancy, “As KWS, we have noted some emerging worrying trends where poachers invent new methods of silently killing the animals to avoid raising suspicion among security agencies,”
While on the visit to Rimoi National Game Reserve he asked that the public keep their eyes open for people carrying arrows and spears while in or close to wildlife reserves as they could be out poaching elephants.
While spears and arrows have been used before by poachers there has been an upsurge in the numbers of elephants being seen with spear and arrow wounds. Early this year a pregnant elephant was found dead after being killed with a poisoned arrow in Kenya and in June two elephants were discovered on the Maasai Mara National Reserve. One elephant still had a spear lodged in his head and his companion had spear wounds to their legs. The two elephants were treated by staff from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
In March one of Kenya’s great tuskers, a 40 year old male named Mshale was speared by poachers and survived a fourth attempt on his life. He had previously been speared twice before and also hit with poisoned arrows.
Satao one of Kenya’s last of the great tuskers was found dead earlier this year. He had been brought down by poisoned arrows and his face hacked away to get at his tusks which reached almost to the ground.
Another big tusker, Torn Ear of Chyulus Hills Reserve in Kenya, was killed earlier this year by poisoned arrows. While the poachers did not get to the tusks as the elephant made it to a tourist lodge he frequented before having to be put down by vets.
In May the iconic elephant, Mountain Bull, of Mount Kenya, was killed by a spear. The 46-year-old elephant was well-known and had learned how to tackle electric fences that got in his way while on migration. He learned that by rolling up his trunk and using his tusks which did not conduct electricity he could tear up the fences without getting hurt or feeling pain.
Iconic elephants of Kenya are no longer falling prey to the rifles and shot-guns but they have a deadly and silent enemy in the arrow and spear that makes it harder for rangers to track and intercept the activity of the poacher.